Professor STefan Allesch Taylor talent management starting up a company

Emotional intelligence: the key to managing a successful business

Professor Stefan Allesch-Taylor CBE knows a thing or two about starting up a business, having co-founded or invested in more than 40 of them across 15 different countries. His ventures have seen him gain an impressive reputation in international business and, in late 2016, he was appointed the first-ever professor in practice for the Entrepreneurs Institute at King’s College London.

So when he says entrepreneurs need to have a nurturing approach when it comes to running a company, it might be a good idea to sit up and take note.

“The ruthless businessman [you see in Hollywood films] really has no place in the world,” he says. “It is just so stereotypical and cliched. Business now needs to be populated by people who care as much about social impact as they do about profitability. That is a new way of looking at talent management.

“When you look at television shows, for example, where the boss points the finger and says ‘you’re fired!’ – that has no place in any business I have operated in. It would probably get you a very nice court case. It’s amazing how many people I meet on my journey who believe being hard, ruthless and pretty horrible as a human being makes you a better businessperson.”

Instead, explains Allesch-Taylor, there needs to be a greater emphasis on emotional intelligence and creating an environment where everyone understands what the organisation is about. “If you do not have a scenario where your people share your values as an organisation you are going to be pulled apart,” he says.

And for those that just want to chase the bottom line at all costs and don’t think about the impact, he has a stark warning: “Ultimately the consumer will punish you for it.”

Thinking entrepreneurially

At King’s College, Allesch-Taylor is currently helping to lead a study researching the kinds of brain activity that underpin business success. The joint project, between the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) and the Entrepreneurship Institute at King’s College, will examine what happens in the brain when someone is thinking entrepreneurially.

The five-year study aims to understand what might stimulate entrepreneurial thinking, creating evidence-based entrepreneurial learning materials and training programmes which can be used in academic curricula around the world.

“As entrepreneurship becomes increasingly important to the global economy, so too does the understanding of how an entrepreneur’s brain works,” explains Allesch-Taylor. “The results of this study have the potential to influence every aspect of not only business, but anywhere entrepreneurial skills are encouraged. Corporate teams, medics, lawyers, educators, public servants and others in leadership roles are increasingly seeking the skills needed to innovate and challenge – there has never been a more pertinent time to unlock the secrets of the entrepreneurial brain.”

Allesch-Taylor describes his own experience as an entrepreneur as very similar to “playing chess, but you can’t see the other guy’s pieces. It comes back to risk analysis. What is my plan B? If that doesn’t work what is my plan C? A very foolish general has only one battle strategy. Business is highly combative. Not everybody out there wants you to be successful. Not everybody out there cares about the greater mission.”

Social Impact of Business

Allesch-Taylor’s own businesses have been driven by far more than just profit. His charities have led change in Africa for more than 10 years, and in 2017 he was named as one of London’s most influential people in the London Evening Standard Progress 1,000 list for his work there and in the UK. In 2010, he launched The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, with the goal of balancing social impact and commercial success. He also provides scholarships for the best start-ups in the King’s20 accelerator programme.

For anyone starting out as an entrepreneur, his advice is to balance the ruthless efficiency of running a decent business with caring about the people in your company as human beings. “You must measure the human being against the role you want, not the role against the human being,” he says. “You cannot be an entrepreneur without really understanding talent management.”

But he concedes that managing talent is not always easy. “I have employed people who I thought were lightweight and they have surprised me,” he says. “Equally, I have employed people with heavyweight CVs that I would not let loose with the remote control on my television after knowing them for more than a month operationally.”

Allesch-Taylor believes it’s important to make the distinction and see senior staff members as partners in business, rather than just another tier of employees. “People may not be equal equity partners, but intellectually they are certainly partners,” he says. “In a 32-year career I have had way more partners than I have had employees at a senior level. Now in the businesses in which I operate, I would be embarrassed to call my leadership team my employees.

“I would much rather call them my partners because that is a much truer view of their contribution to what I do and my respect for their views.”

Job roles are changing

Another great challenge for employers when it comes to talent management is that people think more transiently about their jobs. In the Eighties and Nineties, says Allesch-Taylor, leaving a big corporate such as Marks & Spencer would be unthinkable, with people commonly spending their entire careers at the same big company.

“Now I don’t know anybody in any business in any shape or size who thinks they have a job for life,” he says. “Therefore you have to work to keep them – by basically engaging their values.

“We live in a global economy – it is highly competitive, we have to go the extra mile and let people fly. If you are really encouraging people then – shockingly – you have to give a toss about them as human beings.”

In the longer term, AlleschTaylor sees people’s roles changing as companies increasingly use technology to automate functions. And it is those employees with an entrepreneurial mindset who he believes will do well. “Entrepreneurship needs to be embraced, because over the course of the next generation the focus is going to shift from getting a job to creating one,” Allesch-Taylor says.

“[With] the rise of AI and robotics, even if you have a job, being entrepreneurial in it will ensure that you probably keep it and you don’t end up being automated out of every sector. Entrepreneurship is the future and it is here, and if you ignore it, it is going to roll straight over you.”